I had a hemorrhagic stroke–messy bleeding in the brain. Allow me to precede this post by saying that I never had an alcohol problem. (I had other problems but not applicable here). This post about alcohol is a mixed bag–for stroke survivors and for people who have not had a stroke yet. You’ll see why soon enough.
For starters, you probably don’t remember Betty Ford, our First Lady in the 70s, unless you’re an American. She was the founder of the Betty Ford Centre in Rancho Mirage, California, a luxurious complex for addiction and rehabilitation which handles mostly depression, addiction to drugs, and alcoholism. She was afflicted with all three, maybe because Gerald Ford was the president and clumsy or maybe because she had a mastectomy or maybe because she was stressed, but who knows. The Betty Ford Centre is her legacy and still very much the go-to place for troubled celebrities. For a 45-day stay, the counselor who answered my phone call said the cost is up to $25,000. Who has that kind of money? Celebrities.
Anyway, the first medical director at The Betty Ford Centre was Dr. James West, and family’s questions abounded him. Here is one of the questions he answered:
Dr West: “It is not only possible, but also probable. Having four or five drinks a day, no matter how socially graceful and acceptable at the Country Club, or any other social setting, is heavy drinking. The risk of high blood pressure is 50 percent higher in persons drinking three or four drinks a day than in non-drinkers. Hypertension is a major risk factor for cerebro-vascular hemorrhage (stroke), as well as myocardial infarction (heart attack).
“The four or five drinks your mother consumed are associated with a fourfold increase in the risk of a hemorrhagic stroke. This kind [of stroke] is commonly fatal, or always disabling stroke, is much more common in female heavy drinkers than in men who drink an equal amount. As she now re-enters her world of social functioning, it is imperative that she refrain from alcohol. Her risk of suffering another alcohol-related stroke is the same, or maybe even greater, than before.”
Denise Mann, for WebMD Health News, in conjunction with Louise Chang, MD, said the same as West did years later. Mann wrote in 2012, “Heavy drinkers may be at a much greater risk for a bleeding stroke.”
A new study suggests “people who drank about three or more alcoholic drinks per day also had the strokes almost a decade and a half before those who didn’t drink quite as much.”
Mann goes on to say, “The study included 540 French people with an average age of 71 who had a less common type of stroke called an intracerebral hemorrhage. This type of stroke is caused by bleeding in the brain, not a blood clot.
“The study does add to our knowledge that excessive drinking is bad for our health in a variety of ways, including increased risk of bleeding into the brain.”
“We do know that one glass of red wine a day, on average, lowers heart attack and stroke risk, and that is still true,” says Dr. Patrick Lyden, the chair of the department of neurology at of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “If you don’t drink, don’t start because you think it will protect your heart, and if you do drink, keep it moderate. My rule of thumb is one glass of wine a night, and that is the same as a glass of beer or one mixed drink,” he says.
“This doesn’t mean you can save them up and have seven drinks on a Saturday.” (Even I know that!)
And finally, there comes the Copenhagen City Heart Study, with Dr. Thomas Truelsen et al, which found that “there may be differences in the effect of beer, wine, and spirits due to properties other than ethanol, a topic that has gained only little attention in stroke research. The differences in the effects of beer, wine, and spirits on the risk of stroke suggest that compounds in the wine in addition to ethanol are responsible for the protective effect on risk of stroke.” Grapes, perchance? The study didn’t say.
So my conclusions? If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start. If you take blood thinners, really stop. If you do imbibe, watch the amount, especially if you’re middle-aged or older.